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Does it feel like you're fighting a losing battle against digital evidence?

Workplace Safety, Higher Education, Healthcare, Security, Corporate | 7 Min Read

A few years ago, there was a statement from the NIJ (Nation Institute of Justice), that evidence in every criminal case could easily top 1.5TB of digital evidence content. Let's take a moment and think about that statement: 1.5 terabytes of digital evidence content with every case. What does that number mean in real terms? Breaking that down, it is the equivalent of 50,000 images, or 375,000 4mg audio files, or over 300+ stored seasons of your favorite Netflix series. Now times that by the number of cases created per year at an average police precinct. And while evidence gathering is not new, our world is becoming ever more digital, and the collection, processing, and storing of this digital content needs to keep pace.

The number of items that can be logged as evidence is overwhelming and possibly formidable to the point of no action, not on purpose, but lost in the sea of digital content. Why do we make it this way? Today, digital evidence content comes from a photo, a video with or from a bystander, social media posts, or even new broadcasts. A key piece of digital evidence in the conviction in the George Floyd murder came from a witness. What if that had never been collected, lost, not followed the proper chain of custody before it hit the Hennepin County Courts – would we have seen a different outcome? 

The use of the right technology is a must. Evidence must have the ability to be paperless, trackable, and quickly move to the next step or next person. Evidence may need to move or be shared with different jurisdictions or need to move to the court systems. The must-have for any evidence management system includes the following:

  1. Be simple to gather while on scene. An investigator will gather many pieces of evidence. It's important to use photos, video, and witnesses appropriately to verify the location, time, and other details surrounding the discovery and collection of physical evidence. It must be easy and something that the investigator already has (like a cell phone).
  2. Be simple to gather from other sources. Maybe it is a car chase shown from the local news helicopter and needs to be evidence. Or a social media post sent to the officers three days later. Different formats need to be captured with a record of the complete metadata attached.
  3. Be simple to use, store, and integrate from established systems. The jumble of pulling different tech systems with different requirements, not cohesive, and not intuitive puts liability on using that piece of digital evidence. Digital evidence must have a clear, searchable, easy-to-understand path to one location, including integration into CAD, RMS, Bodycams, CCTVs, and Courts systems. The workflow must be easy to use throughout all actions.
  4. Be simple to catalog by case number and type. All documents that you receive that are in any way related should also be saved and organized. There's little worse than finding evidence and failing to document it properly, rendering it potentially useless if tampering is suspected. All evidence needs to be organized and available by type, keyword, tags, or case number.
  5. Be simple to audit. Evidence must have a record of the exact when and every person associated with it. This chain of custody is not only needed; it is required. Preserving paperless evidence is also challenging because, unlike physical evidence, it can be altered or possibly deleted. Investigators need to be able to authenticate the evidence and provide documentation to prove its integrity. Following that discovery, protecting the Evidence with a transparent chain of custody by a responsible party is critical to ensuring it is not subject to interference or destruction, create a permanent log, tracking the history of the digital evidence from the time of collection to final disposition.
  6. Be simple to secure. Keeping the digital content secure and ensuring the administrative tasks around keeping it secure (the right people have the right access at the right time) cannot be a time-consuming process.

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, "Simple can be harder than complex… but worth it as you can move mountains." The technology you pick for digital evidence content must be designed for a simple action with many complex factors. Creating a simple solution is a lot of hard work.

Rohit Chhabra - Chief Product Officer, Omnigo

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